Tall order

Tennessee's smallest basketball player may have the biggest impact on its 2010-11 season.

Senior point guard Melvin Goins - listed at 5-11 - is being counted on to (a) run the Vols' transition offense, (b) spearhead its pressure defense and (c) fill the leadership void created by the loss of 2009-10 seniors Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze.

That's a lot to ask of a guy who has played in just 31 college games with four starts. But that's what Bruce Pearl expects of Goins.

"I think Melvin Goins has stepped up as a leader - on and off the court - with his play, with the way he communicates to the team," Pearl said when asked who will lead this year's team. "I think Melvin has really been the guy that looks like, as far as a leadership role, he has changed from last year to this year."

Goins finds such comments both rewarding and challenging. He takes on an uncharacteristically solemn demeanor when discussing his new role.

"It means a great deal to me to be in the position to lead this team," he said somberly. "It's a big deal to me and I take it very serious. I lead by my actions - just being out there on the floor, going hard and giving my all - but I'm vocal, too."

Goins provided very little leadership last season. There were several reasons for this: One, the Vols had Chism, Prince and Maze. Two, Goins was late joining the team due to some academic issues in junior college. Three, he underwent minor knee surgery in October and spent the first two months of the 2009-10 season getting in shape. Four, he served a four-game disciplinary suspension in connection with the celebrated Jan. 1 traffic stop.

"Last year I missed the whole summer," he recalled. "I came in right when school started. I had the knee injury, then another setback, so I never had a chance to get in the swing of things and get into a leadership position. I always had to stay in the background in that area. I had to bite my tongue just because I didn't feel comfortable trying to lead last year. This year I feel more comfortable and more confident."

Goins believes he learned from last year's experiences and is ready to be a better teammate and a better leader in 2010-11. Toward that end he spent the summer in Knoxville, rather than return to his hometown of San Diego.

"Melvin wasn't here last summer; he was here this summer," Pearl noted. "And I do think that this is going to help Melvin's game because leadership was a part of Melvin that comes naturally that he wasn't able to use last year by virtue of the fact that he didn't get here until August. I think leading will help Melvin play better, too."

Goins believes the time he devoted to his team this summer will pay dividends this winter, as well.

"I didn't go home during the summer, so being here all summer long helped me to become more confident and comfortable," he said. "I worked on my overall game during the summer, so I feel like I'm a better player."

And that, he believes, will make him a better leader.

"I've been in the program for a year, so I know more and I'm more comfortable," he said. "To teach these young guys - show them the ropes - is big-time for me."

Goins knows the system better than last year. He also knows his teammates better. That's critical at his position.

"It's very important as a point guard to know what's going on everywhere on the floor," he said. "You sort of have to keep one play ahead on what's going to happen. Thinking the game through is important, so being in the program for a year makes that more second nature to me."

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